According to a study of around 750 academic papers conducted on behalf of the Advance Workplace Institute (AWI), a global workplace management body, trust, social cohesion and information sharing is most at risk when people work virtually. Trust also lies at the foundation of any team or relationship.
Both trust and credibility must be consciously understood and actively managed in organizations. They should not be left to chance. Fortunately, there are ways organizations can foster more trust and credibility. One of them is to make a firm commitment to the principles of trustworthiness and credibility.
What Does it Mean to be Trustworthy and Credible?
Merriam-Webster defines trust as the “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” Credibility is defined as the “quality of being trusted and believed in.” From these two definitions, it’s fairly obvious that any relationship, personal or professional, must reside on a foundation of trust and credibility in order to obtain true success.
Why Trust Matters
One of the biggest differentiators in relationships that have a foundation of trust is the ability to assume positive intent. What this means is that if something goes wrong at work as it inevitably will, people will tend to assume positive intent. For instance, if a team trusts their manager and their manager doesn’t inform them of a specific change that is impacting their work, the team doesn’t automatically assume that their manager is out to get them, or there is some conspiracy at play actively keeping them out of the loop. The team members may assume their manager meant to tell them but may have forgotten or will let them know during their team meeting. With the assumption of positive intent, a virtuous cycle occurs. An employee is much more likely to check things out, ask questions or get to the bottom of a situation as opposed to pointing blame and getting angry. This results in dialogue, feedback, information sharing and hopefully improved decision making in the future.
On the flip side, when trust is not present amongst individuals, it is very hard to assume positive intent because you just don’t know how trustworthy or credible the person is. If the same team as before did not trust their manager they are more likely to assume negative intent when something goes wrong. They may assume their manager doesn’t care or value them, or their manager is intentionally withholding information. The team may begin to badmouth their manager, withdraw and communicate less. The danger here is that a vicious cycle begins to transpire. The Manager will inevitably react to the behavior of their team and the cycle worsens. There is no information sharing or discussion happening and it is harder to make sure the same problem won’t happen again. After a while, this overall mistrust and lack of credibility can result in employees losing faith in management as a whole.
When trust and credibility make up the foundation of relationships at work, people are more likely to operate from a positive viewpoint. This allows healthy relationships to form at all levels of the organization. Through trusting relationships comes the increased flow of information and useful feedback, both of which ultimately lead to better-decision making by all.
7 Ways to Rebuild Trust
If the description above of a mistrustful work environment sounds discouraging, the good news is that organizations have turned themselves around by making a conscious effort to rebuild trust and credibility within the workplace. Although the rebuilding may start at the management level, the same steps for rebuilding can and should be taken by employees as well. In other words, rebuilding trust works best from the top down and the bottom up.
- Follow Through — Do what you say you’ll do. Sometimes doing what you say you’ll do may be difficult, such as firing a toxic person, but ultimately your employees who do want to perform well will appreciate your commitment to developing a positive work environment for everyone. Other times it is fairly simple, it just takes discipline. For instance, an employee came to you with a question that you didn’t have the answer to but you said you would look into it and get back to them. It is pertinent that you make sure you actually get back to them!
- Instill Accountability — Everyone understands that on occasion, even the best employees fall short. A great way to rebuild trust and instill lasting accountability is by fostering an environment where people can freely admit mistakes and shortcomings. Maybe a team member wasn’t able to complete their portion of the project by the agreed upon deadline. As the manager, use these opportunities to better understand why. For instance, maybe the team member’s department is short-staffed, overloaded, or has resource constraints. Maybe the team member has personal challenges going on. Learn from the situation, put systems in place to help remedy the problem, and then move on. This may also mean starting with yourself. Own up to your own shortcomings. Admit when you made a mistake or fall short of a deadline and commit to doing better next time.
- Be Present — There is a fine balance between micromanaging a project or a team, and being too hands off. Frequent and consistent communication is a great way for managers to let others know that they are fully invested in the team and/or important projects. Whether it is weekly check-ins or biweekly team meetings, when managers actively keep lines of communication open with their employees, it helps create a positive feedback loop which is integral in rebuilding trust.
- Give Your Undivided Attention — Just as important as being present, is the action of giving a person your undivided attention. Recognize that by giving your full attention you help facilitate communication and the free flow of ideas. You are also demonstrating through your time and actions that you care. Make eye contact, put down your phone and give the person you are speaking with your full attention.
- Be Growth Oriented — In today’s competitive environment, anything an employee or manager can do to foster growth is good for both them and the company they work for. Take the time to ask your employees about their career and professional development goals as well as what you can do to help support them towards their goals.
- Give Stretch Assignments — This ties closely with being growth-oriented. As a manager you can help members of your team get to the next level by coming up with assignments that will stretch your employees. More times than not, this involves some level of risk. Maybe you ask a team member to be a lead project owner of a particular area of the department. Maybe you have someone on your team present at the next Leadership meeting. Conversely, management must be willing to stretch themselves and try implementing some of the feedback they’ve received from staff.
- Permission to Fail — While it’s always great when a stretch assignment is successful, sometimes risk doesn’t always work out well. By giving people permission to fail, it helps them remain confident that they can still try new things and present other ideas to management. This keeps the lines of communication flowing for the next idea that may turn out to be wildly successful.
If you’d like some expert input or direct coaching around how to build or rebuild trust in your workplace, let’s talk!